In 1997, Paris-based multi-instrumentalist Naim Amor moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he quickly found his way inside the orbit of Giant Sand and Friends Of Dean Martinez. Soon enough, he formed a band with FODM/Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, and even though their debut failed to take off, the collaboration has kept going, one way or another. On The Western Suite And Siesta Songs, Amor (Arizona) and Convertino (Ohio) are writing and recording separately, completing the tracks long-distance, and somehow making these 12 pieces work as a cohesive whole.
The flavor is spaghetti-Southwestern, with an occasional touch of Left Bank accordion. The playing—on delicately layered guitars, keyboards and percussion—is beautifully sympathetic, and the feeling as languorous as a long, straight line of asphalt baking under the desert sun, the heat rising in waves to conjure memories of roads not taken.
Since the dissolution of indie-pop darlings the Anniversary in 2004, Josh Berwanger has recorded two roots-rock records with the Only Children and a solo album in 2013. His newest eponymously named band finds the Kansas native as a skilled purveyor of breezy guitar pop—which is to say, aside from revving the tempos and cranking the amps, Exorcism Rock is not a drastic departure from Berwanger’s solo LP.
As always, the man knows how to bait a hook, although in the lyrical department, he’s no Dylan. Case in point, “Rats & Cats” will make you want to break into dance like the Christmas episode Peanuts gang, but the chorus “Girl, I want you so bad” earns zero points for originality. Later, Berwanger delivers an entire song called “I Want You Bad.” Let’s hope she finally returns his calls so the man can move on to weightier sentiments.
It’s long past the band’s supposed feud with Portland’s Dandy Warhols. (Although how great is it that the opening track on this record is called “Good Mourning,” à la the Dandys circa 1997, sounding nothing like them whatsoever?) In fact, it’s Brian Jonestown Massacre’s 15th full-length release, an almost incomprehensible fact when you consider how consistently fine its output has been over two decades. And the band is absolutely none the worse for wear.
Leader Anton Newcombe lives and works in Berlin these days, and Third World Pyramid, like its recent predecessors, is yet another gorgeous, quasi-psychedelic slice of the band’s kaleidoscope-eyes popcraft, with Newcombe and longtime associates Ricky Maymi, Joel Gion, Collin Hegna, Dan Allaire and some new faces (Emil Nikolaisen of Norway’s Serena-Maneesh, Tess Parks and Katy Lane) bringing to near 20 the number of folks past and present who’ve comprised the BJM at any point in time. This matters not a jot—Newcombe’s beautifully woolly creation has always been his baby, and jams such as “Like Describing Colors To A Blind Man On Acid” are the perfect representation of what these guys have always majored in: setting a hall of mirrors on fire, then playing while it burns.
From rebellious 2005 breakout hit “Kerosene” to the deliciously cocky title track of 2014’s Platinum, Miranda Lambert has long presented herself as a spitfire: brash, outspoken, unapologetic and usually packing the blistering guitars to match. The picture painted by her hefty, sweeping sixth album, however, is something else entirely. This is, by and large, an introspective affair—lyrically if not always musically—that finds the songwriter taking a hard look at her life (including those well-documented wild-living impulses), emerging seemingly wiser but a good deal less self-assured.
Or at least, about half of it is. As with most double albums, there’s a tendency to want to cherry-pick and whittle down the tracklist to a more potent and digestible form. But it’s especially tempting in this case, given that roughly 50 percent of these two dozen songs come across as deeply felt, personal, nuanced and truthful without being overly confessional, whereas most of the remainder—including, notably, the four songs not written or co-written by Lambert—tend toward formula and cliché (the cutesy-dopey “For The Birds,” blandly anthemic “Keeper Of The Flame”), stock situations and stereotypes (grossly regressive empowerment-attempt “Tomboy”) and/or hokey, pandering country-fantasy tropes (are-you-serious throwback fluff “Covered Wagon.”)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these songs, per se (well, “Pink Sunglasses” is pretty insufferable)—they just seem like they belong to an entirely different album from the poignant and tremulous “Use My Heart,” deftly sketched, bleary-eyed self-appraisal “Vice,” the witty, winking self-portrait-by-proxy “We Should Be Friends” or even the deceptively jaunty “Ugly Lights” (an AA testimonial in all but name). If the first decade of Lambert’s career was an exuberantly reckless, hell-raising party, Weight is the inexorable comedown: a graceful and timely maturation that might just take a little editing to come through clearly.
—K. Ross Hoffman
As it happens, there are many pop-savvier moves than opening your first solo-project album in seven years with a nine-minute meditation on a single, hypnotic organ chord while heartbrokenly repeating “I miss you” no fewer than 33 times. But there are probably none that are more Hope Sandoval. By now, whether fronting Mazzy Star, her Warm Inventions project or guesting on a particularly downcast Massive Attack or Psychic Ills track, you know what you’re getting from the Los Angeles chanteuse: an overflowing cup of hushed, sultry melancholy, which perfectly describes Until The Hunter, her third release with My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosóig as the Warm Inventions.
But it’s not all songs in the key of sad; “Let Me Get There” is a beautiful little bit of loping ’70s radio pop created in collaboration with Kurt Vile, “Treasure” invents a new codeine-country subgenre, and “Liquid Lady” weaves its black-magic woman-y vibe in a manner not entirely dissimilar from Janis’ finest moments with Big Brother (if sung at a totally different octave). It’s not all successful—I could do without Ren Faire sung/spoken-word tropes like “A Wonderful Seed” again—but as mood music for a particularly rainy series of months, it’s a perfectly bummed-out comedown.